I’ve had readers write me asking why is HR so useless, especially when it comes to bullying. Now, I need to add that not all Human Resources departments will push your cries for help aside. Some will rise to the occasion.
But, again and again we see cases where they do not support the bullying victim. In fact, the victim is often re-victimized by the way they’re made to feel shame for coming forward.
There are good people in Human Resources. But often they are too powerless or too afraid. Plus, you are not their ultimate client.
So why is HR so useless?
The Human Resources Department is set up as a central place to handle employee-related issues. In addition to hiring and firing, they get involved in things like employee development as well as internal conflict resolution.
But when it comes to conflict resolution, their actions are often limited by the official company handbook and policies. Even if they agree with you and want to help, their ultimate mission is to protect the corporate structure. And that includes the very same bosses who may be causing the problems.
Isn’t that a bad way to run the company?
Well, in purely ethical terms, yes. Since a company that treats its employees poorly should suffer from heavy turnover and low morale, why would they do that? Aren’t they risking their reputation?
Because in many cases these kinds of things gets covered up before anyone hears about it internally — and definitely not externally. A company’s reputation means everything. So HR helps make sure to protect it above all.
What happens when you file a complaint
So you decide your boss (or whoever) is not treating you in a way you can accept. And you sit down with HR to discuss your situation privately. The person listens, nods understandingly, and says they’ll be in touch.
And in most cases they are in touch — with the boss who is being accused. And the executive team who helps to figure out next steps. Usually those next steps involve making the person who spoke up seem wrong or at least mistaken. Also, this may not have been the first time, so they have a basic procedure (worked out with their legal department) to turn to.
They’ll see if there’s a way for you to stay and simply not have this “messiness” come up again. But they may also try to get you to sign something and leave quietly. With the promise of good references. Since many people feel too weak to fight back and too embarrassed to stay, they move on. And so they leave without the boss being harmed in any way by his or her actions.
There may be rumors. But often things get glossed over and life moves on. Except for the person who was bullied or otherwise abused by their boss. Often they carry this with them. Perhaps a little less willing to make waves of any kind the next time. And scarred by the incident in ways we can’t see.
How to maximize your chances of getting help
Now, not every case has HR rushing to the aid of the boss. It’s still about the good of the company. Perhaps this is repeated behavior, and they’re tired of it. And ready to use this latest complaint to help cut ties with him or her.
Or, perhaps with all that’s been in the news of late, HR has been advised to take these things more seriously — to help avoid legal actions against the company. We are in a time of transition. Or so I truly hope. Maybe your chances are better now as a result.
But it also helps if you know of other instances. And can get people to back you up. There’s strength in numbers. One person walking in can more easily be called a “misunderstanding”. Or maybe even a mutually-initiated action. But a few people with the same complaints (documented if possible) can get this raised to “attention must be paid.”
And, as I just mentioned, documentation of the details can make a huge difference in your chances. Let them see that you’ve carefully documented every step of the bullying or otherwise abusive behavior. Also, having contacted a legal advisor and knowing your rights, you can let HR know that you are not ready to write this off to “boys will be boys.”
What if you are not being taken seriously or worse?
Here’s where “why is HR so useless” raises its ugly head again. If the company has decided to back your boss and fight you every step of the way — even demeaning you for speaking up — HR is not going to stand up for you. At least not in most cases. Again, the company is their client.
So what can you do in that case? If you want to go through a legal battle, you can either hire a lawyer (expensive) or contact a government office, such as your state’s Attorney General) for advice.
But the tricky part of this kind of lawsuit is that bullying in and of itself, as awful as it can be, is not illegal. Unless it violates a federal discrimination law or criminal law, as I understand it. So a pattern of picking on people of the same race, sex, age group, and more can help make your case.
If you really want to fight, you might have to do it using your carefully kept notes (time, place, exact words, actions) and any support you can find. Especially support from someone who is respected by the company. If you stay professional and determined, you may be able to find a solution that allows you to stay. At least in some capacity.
If not, leaving may be your only good choice. But hang in as tough as you can and at least negotiate good references for yourself. And a little extra money if at all possible. Sometimes you do need to move on. But you move on in strength, better prepared for the next time. And hopefully more aware of behavioral cues to watch out for when interviewing.
For more on this topic from Marketwatch: Why HR isn’t necessarily your friend
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